Local schools prepared to protect

Published 8:37 pm Friday, December 14, 2012

A law enforcement tactical team regularly patrols local schools after hours, practicing what they would do in the event of a mass shooting like the one that killed 26 people in Connecticut Friday morning.

Schools across Escambia County have safety plans — some laid out in thick, three-ring binders — to help prepare them for a tragedy.

But Superintendent Lynn Smith said that, while he is certainly glad that kind of preparation is in place, there is little school officials could do to prevent that kind of tragedy — they just have to know how to react.

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“It’s truly hard to say what is best,” he said. “At some point, you just have to rely on common sense — making sure folks stay put until the danger is passed, then trying to get them out of there as soon as possible.”

But a mass school shooting is not usually the result of someone “backed into a corner,” Smith said.

“Typically, these (shooters) have really deep-seated problems,” he said. “You really can’t stop some of this stuff.”

Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith said law enforcement agencies in Escambia County — and across the state — have plans in place in the event of a tragic situation such as the Connecticut.

“There has been a plan in place for some time now,” Sheriff Smith said. “Our school officials have been very proactive in formulating a plan. But, the thing is we don’t know from where or when something like that could happen. When we have a disaster like a hurricane, we can be prepared for that, but this is something that is difficult to understand. If you’re willing to give your life, you can kill whoever you wish.”

Smith said Friday’s incident draws attention to the need to keep guns from those who are most likely to do such harm with them.

For example, he said, the National Rifle Association is working to introduce a bill that would strike down a sheriff’s discretion to issue a gun permit.

“If they get their way, anybody who wanted a permit could get one,” he said.

The sheriff said a plan to allow any person wanting a gun to be issued a permit is not something he supports.

“The second amendment gives everyone the right to bear arms, and the sheriffs in Alabama are active in protecting those rights,” Smith said. “We are charged with protecting hard working people from crooks and thieves — the very people we don’t need to have guns. Under the proposed NRA law, every gang member would have the right to walk up and down the street with guns on their side and we couldn’t do anything about. If I’m sitting in a restaurant with my family and four or five people walk in being loud and obnoxious and carrying a gun, you won’t be able to relax. It would be unreasonable.”

Smith said a sheriff in Alabama had told him about a request for a gun permit that was denied in Tuscaloosa County.

“A man who was a youthful offender with a charge of trafficking heroine had requested a gun permit and was denied,” Smith said. “Under the NRA rule, he would have been eligible for a permit to carry a gun.”

Smith also recalled incidents that lead him to deny gun permits here in Escambia County.

“I know of a time when we had a man come in for a permit and he had more than 20 charges against him on drug related crimes,” Smith said. “His permit was denied. He didn’t like it, but it was denied.”

Smith said guns may be the useful in the right hands but agreed there are some people who should not be carrying firearms.

“I’m not certain gun laws is the reason we had this shooting,” Smith said. “Guns are plentiful and we don’t need to be working to issue permits to people who don’t need them to begin with. Good, decent, hardworking people are not causing the problems. The problem is lunatics with guns. That’s why we need more discretion and more ability to remove those guns, not less.”

Smith also said he would fight “to my dying breath” to keep the right to deny permits to those who may be a danger to the public or themselves.

“I hope the people of this county will think about how they would feel if people were allowed to openly carry guns,” Smith said. “The next time you’re in a restaurant or business, look around and wonder how you’d feel if everyone in there had a gun. If you feel safe, support the NRA. If you don’t feel safe, you’re probably right here with me and 99 percent of the population.”